Photographer: UIG via Getty Images

India, U.S. Discover Major Natural Gas Reserve in Indian Ocean

  • Find may significantly expand regional energy production
  • Gas locked in hydrate formations may exceed all known supplies

A joint expedition by India and the U.S. discovered a major deposit of natural gas in the Indian Ocean, offering the potential to significantly expand energy production in a region that’s currently a big importer.

India’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas and the U.S. Geological Survey struck a large, highly enriched deposit of natural gas hydrate -- an icy form of the fuel -- in the Bay of Bengal off the country’s east coast, potentially the first producible reserve of its kind in the waters, the U.S. agency said in a statement Monday.

The finding may add to the world’s expanding supply of gas. The amount of the fuel contained in the planet’s gas hydrate accumulations is estimated to “greatly exceed the volume of all known conventional gas resources,” the agency said. The discovery also comes as countries like India and China seek to slash their dependence on higher polluting energy sources like coal, which releases twice the heat-trapping emissions as natural gas when burned.

“Advances like the Bay of Bengal discovery will help unlock the global energy resource potential of gas hydrates as well help define the technology needed to safely produce them,” Walter Guidroz, energy resources program coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey, said in the statement.

The discovery follows an exploration of the region from March to July of last year. While earlier finds of hydrate accumulations were unlikely to be producible, formations in sand reservoirs like the one announced Monday are the most easily tapped with existing technologies. The next step is to determine whether production from the Bay of Bengal site is economic.

“The results from this expedition mark a critical step forward to understanding the energy resource potential of gas hydrates,” Tim Collett, a senior scientist with the U.S. agency, said in the statement.

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